It’s often said the NFL has no off-season, but clearly the period between the end of mini-camps and the start of training camp (which won’t start until August for the first time in team history) is the lowest time of the year. Nothing newsworthy is really happening right now. Last year at this time I was determined to fill this lull in the football year, so I planned a trip to the football hall-of-fame in Canton, Ohio for late June of 2003.
When I proposed this plan to my dad, he was on board immediately with one requirement: we spend a day at the Air Force museum in Dayton. Staring at old airplanes probably isn’t my idea of a great time, but his point was a deal-breaker so off we went, flying into Columbus, which is half-way between Dayton (in the southwest corner of Ohio near Cincinnati) and Canton (near the eastern border, just south of Cleveland).
Day one was at the United States Air Force Museum http://www.wpafb.af.mil/museum/ at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton. Dayton was the home of the Wright brothers, who tinkered with the idea of flying machines while fixing bicycles. While the famous “first flight” happened in 1903, it wasn’t until they partnered with the Army in 1908 that flight had any widespread practical uses. Essentially, the history of aviation in this country took off with the military.
I throw in this little bit of history, because walking into the hangers at Wright-Patterson I was Totally. Blown. Away. Imagine four separate hangers, each about two football fields wide and two football fields deep and packed so tight with planes from the entire spectrum of army and air force history that the eyes cannot even absorb all there is to see. If you’re ever in this part of the country, this free museum is worthy of whatever time you can devote. Don’t forget to sign up for the bus ride into the gates of the base to see different permutations of the presidential Air Force 1, including a predecessor used by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (complete with wheelchair access).
HEY WAIT A SECOND - ISN’T THIS COLUMN SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT THE HALL OF FAME???
Oh yeah, but really I was much more impressed with the Air Force museum. While the AFM transports you vividly into the history of military flight, the hall of fame merely fulfills its perfunctory duty of displaying those players who have been (mostly) arbitrarily elected into it.
The hall starts off promising, with a journey through the history of the game, replete with stories of Walter Camp and Red Grange. The various head-gears used by players over the years are displayed, and facts about the league are provided up to about 1990.
And then it stops.
I can only assume they ran out of space or money, but for the HOF folks, history is clearly not dynamic because many of the displays appear to be falling apart and are in serious need of updating. For example, they mention the Seahawks entered the league in 1976 and “moved permanently into the AFC West the next year”. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to matter that that statement isn’t true anymore. I don’t mean to berate the hall for one antiquated statement; the whole history section suffers from neglect. Obviously when the hall was conceived 40 years ago, preserving history was a serious priority but the curator must have walked off the job 15 years ago and the position was never filled.
My second beef is with the architecture. The hall was built in numerous phases and the whole complex suffers from a lack of overall impact. Every section was clearly schlepped on to the next. It didn’t help that when I was there the building was in yet another re-model. Many of the bust statues was moved to a temporary conference room, and even standing before my boy-hood idol Steve Largent just didn’t have the impact I had hoped for.
And really, it’s the statues I flew out for, isn’t it? I took a moment to stand with Largent and reflect on the impact he had on my life and on the region in which I grew up, and I couldn’t shake this one nagging thought: It just doesn’t look like him that much. Yup. Sadly, if the temporary folded-over cardboard name plate didn’t bear his name, I might not have even known it was him.
A neat new feature that had just opened was an inter-active video screen where you could view video highlights and facts about each player in the hall. It was fun to punch-up old film of some earlier players. Hopefully this builds on one of the NFLs greatest assets, which is its video history. NFL films has so much great old material and it needs to be displayed I full-force in the hall. Downstairs there was a screening room, and the 30 minute feature was just some old blooper video, the kind you got for subscribing to Sports Illustrated in 1992.
There WAS one great video experience, which was the revolving “Gameday Stadium”. The fans were packed into a small screening room and presented with a video bigger than they eyes could see. Sort of a mini-IMAX. A fun show, although much of the action showed was on the practice field instead of in the games themselves.
The “hall-of-fans” display was worthwhile. On the surface the promotion seems more like NFL lip-service, but being there in person I felt as though the selected fans were being truly honored. Nice job there. Shout-out to “Kiltman” and “Mama Blue.” This year “Cannonball” Carter gets his turn. Congratulations to all.
But overall, the hall left me hungering for more of a sense of the place the players inducted here have in the game overall. I wonder if the hall suffers because of the same reasons I love the NFL so much, which is because it is the ultimate in team sports. No one player makes a team. For many of the players, greatness can’t be measured in any tangible way, as you can with hitters in baseball or rebounders in basketball. Honoring individuals seems almost hollow, and yet that’s what the HOF is charged with. Forgive me if I left wanting more.
No regrets, however. I took
a journey I had always dreamed of taking, and I was given a magical ride through
the last 100 years of history, just not in the way I expected.
If you have any more questions, or ideas for future topics, feel free to shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.